Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

Smuggler is the first full-length work by Nicholas Fillmore, a gritty crime memoir which recounts his experiences of becoming a drugs smuggler as well as his time in prison paying his dues to society, and then his subsequent release several years later.

I truly wanted to write a raving review for Smuggler as I had so much fun interviewing the author and learning about his colourful story, unfortunately I really struggled getting through this memoir for stylistic reasons.

As you would expect in a memoir, the story uses first person narrative. The author is clearly highly educated and extremely well read; his background in poetry is also apparent. Herewith lies the first issue I encountered; passages were often descriptive in an overlong and over-poetic manner, i.e. I struggled keeping up with what was actually being presented. I am a firm fan and user of complex sentences and paragraphs, but this was too much for me. 

My second issue was that I often had to consult the dictionary to fully understand the prose. Granted, English is my second language, however, I do speak it to native level and I struggled. Often. Combined with the prison acronyms which I simply could not remember.

Below are a couple of examples:

"The halcyon days of money and hotels and the belief that we'd found an "out" from the drudgery of low wages, meaningless toil and rules were collapsing under their own weight(lessness) and some vaguely felt second act in which we might be called upon, if only by our own brains, to speak of ourselves, not legally or ethically, but existentially—as we all must—was being wheeled into place."


"When they told me to pack out, the joy—the soaring joy—that I felt was foregrounded by a painful self-reflection: the next morning as the C.O. called my name and I walked to the main floor and the unit door fired and I stepped tentatively into the hallway toward the elevators and glanced back at those inmates up early and standing on the rail, ghosts of myself; as I made my way through R&D, shuffled down the hallway in to the sally port and got on the transport with half a dozen other prisoners; and as the steel door rolled up revealing the light of day and the bus hurtled into traffic turning not toward Dirksen but onto the highway, and it became clear that Yes, I was leaving ... something lifted and momentarily freed of conscience I was struck by a glimpse of myself I had not seen in four years, and I felt unutterably sad for all that I had lost."

My final issue was the lack of a clear timeline; it is only towards the end that I figured out that the author had been jailed from the age of 33 for eight years. Events were more like detached and separate vignettes; recollections; anecdotes. A myriad of characters made an appearance but I could not really understand or connect with any of them, including the author himself, as I felt I did not have any real insight into his own personality, thoughts and turmoil. The only constant was L., to whom the book is dedicated.

I think there were some truly fascinating facets and insights into African drug lords and prison life within this tale, but they were lost due to the issues mentioned above.

Would I read more from this author? Yes, I would as I believe Mr Fillmore has a lot to say; I would just hope for better editorial direction. But that is my own taste and personal opinion; just like when it comes to food and wine we all have very different preferences, and my struggles might be someone else's joy.
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Nicholas Fillmore tells his life story about being a drug smuggler for a African drug lord.  You can sense through it all his own understanding that he was doing wrong but did not know how to get out of what he was doing. This book is sort of a spin off of the book Piper wrote that created the series Orange is the New Black.  For me as I read the story I had mixed feelings about what was happening to Nicholas.  I like that he found his redemption so to speak but I struggled with that fact he was moving heroin.  All three Claire and Nicholas as well as Temper wrote books about their drug smuggling days.  I know our criminal justice system is full of people who used drugs that are still sitting there in jail for possession of marijuana.  Part of me rooted for redemption and part of me rooted for severe punishment like a person of color would receive.  I think they all where lucky in the end that they had a second chance and families that supported them to rebuild their lives. I still sit here and think about our criminal system that severely punishes people of color for use of a substance and someone white people from a middle class family some how gets out easy because he became a rat.  I want the system to be fair to all.  Nicholas is a very good writer and I hope he continues to pursue writing as a career.  I know as I read I felt the same anxiety as he did crossing ports of entry with mules.  I felt the tension and your own struggles as I read the words.  This is not always easy to do and you did it masterfully.
I want to thank NetGalley and Iambic Books Publishing for allowing me to review this book for an honest review.
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The thing about non-celebrity memoirs is that they have to be either very well written, fascinating, or both in order to capture the reader's attention. Fortunately, this book -- for the most part -- is both.

I was somehow completely unaware until close to the end, when one of Fillmore's drug smuggling associates, here called "Temper," was revealed clearly to be Piper Kerman, that this book was in any way related to Orange Is the New Black. I just thought that Fillmore's story of smuggling in the 1990s, and his subsequent time in prison, was interesting on its own terms and took it on face value.

Fillmore's writing shows his erudition, so much so that it sometimes comes off as a pretentious graded project for an MFA in Creative Writing. Then again, this could be my own bias against privileged white dudes who majorly fuck up their lives and then think they have a wonderful story to tell. Fillmore is of that ilk, yes, and the late-20/early-30something Fillmore who embarked on a smuggling career seems like a huge jerk whom I would not want to be around. However, today's older and wiser Fillmore -- the one who wrote this book -- does, in fact, have a good story to tell and the talent to tell it. It's about bad choices, peril, crime and punishment; about being a jerk and ultimately getting over it after years of self-reflection.

The first half of this book, the smuggling half, can get a little repetitive at times. There's lots of waiting around in hotels and airports and such, as well as the aforementioned young jerk behavior. But the people Fillmore encounters are never not interesting, the anecdotes about them compelling in the way of a car crash. The second half of the book, the prison half moves a little faster, and is more familiar ground for anyone who has read other prison memoirs, though every prisoner's personal experience is unique and Fillmore's is no exception.
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Nicholas falls into the heroin smuggling business almost by accident, as it seems like a good way to make easy money quickly. So it begins, but things eventually start to fall apart. Good times are followed by increasing paranoia, friendships turn to rivalries, and romance is ruined by lies. Feeling that things are coming unstuck, Nicholas becomes more and more reckless, until his inevitable arrest. The second half of the book covers the time he spends behind bars, the array of interesting characters he meets in various government facilities, and his eventual release.

This isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill true crime story but a work with true literary style. The author is obviously well-educated and has a tremendous vocabulary, although there are a few minor editing errors. The current-day story is interspersed with reminiscences of his “criminal” activities as a child, which serve to humanize him, as does his relationship with his girlfriend L (to whom the book is dedicated). Even though we know that Nicholas will eventually get caught, the story is still suspenseful because we don’t know when it will happen or under what circumstances.

I would have liked more of an idea of the passage of time, as the period over which Nicholas performs his criminal activities and the length of his imprisonment aren’t made clear. I was surprised at one point to discover he spent four years in prison before he was even sentenced. While the story is very well-written, it feels a bit light-hearted given the subject matter. I would have preferred some more introspection from the author on the impact of his actions on those around him and, perhaps, some indication that he regrets his actions, further to his feeling of the loss of six years of his life. I get the impression he’s holding back, which may be a coping mechanism and, therefore, understandable.

An engrossing cautionary tale for our times.

Warnings: coarse language, criminal activity, drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, LGBT themes, sexual references.
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Interesting read with a moral undertone.
The book starts glamourous and slow and then accelerates into a dark world where actions have consequences.
Nigerian gangsters,black magic,international travels,heroin smuggling,moral justifications and a descent into the inevitable.
Excellent writing,believable characters,somehow short on action and long on minor details,but all in all an interesting read narrated by a very competent writer.
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Nicholas needs money badly since the rent is due, but he struggles with his conscience. It’s international drug smuggling after all. Plus there’s a lot of risk involved, depending on the country it could be as high as death. It’s quite a dilemma, the money is insanely good.  the situation soon gets hairy and turns out to really be about smuggling heroin.
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This was an interesting story about a twenty-something guy who is looking around for work after college. He finds this job where he starts out thinking he’s going to be editing a magazine when he leaves town and kisses his girlfriend goodbye. But the situation soon gets squirrely and turns out to really be about smuggling heroin.

Nicholas needs money badly since the rent is due, but he struggles with his conscience. It’s international drug smuggling after all. Plus there’s a lot of risk involved, depending on the country it could be as high as death. It’s quite a dilemma, the money is insanely good. Nick does make the greedy choice and gets involved, begins lying to his girlfriend about where he’s actually traveling to and what he’s doing on these trips. He’s working with others and things soon get very dicey, as if they weren’t already shady enough.

Smuggler tells the real story behind Orange Is The New Black. The story is a good one and is well written along with being a good moral lesson. It would work for both memoir readers and true crime readers. My thanks for the advance electronic copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Nicholas Fillmore, and the publisher for my fair review.

Publisher: IBPA. 292 pages.
RATING: 4/5 Stars

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